How to Spend a Fun Filled Few Days in Chattanooga with Kids
My family visited Chattanooga on a road trip from Florida to Ohio when I was a kid, but to be honest, I never even thought about going back.That is until I had kids.
Despite my husband and I being avid travelers, we slowed down when the kids were born.
Part of that is because of the kids, but also, I quit my job to stay home with them and that means less money for vacations.
To top it off, Mark changed jobs, which means fewer vacation days.
Lastly, our kids just weren’t great travelers. They struggled to sleep away from their own beds which left us all whiny and tired.Still, I am determined to travel.
At the time we went to Chattanooga, the kids were 3 and almost 5.
We picked Chattanooga for a few reasons.
We only had a long weekend available.
I remembered the train in Chattanooga and my 3-year-old son was train obsessed. Chattanooga is about a 9 hours drive from where we lived which means that we could get there in a (very long) day, and it was far enough away for me to feel like I was somewhere different.
Living in Florida, it is a far drive to get anywhere that isn’t beach or swamp.
My 4 year old really wanted to see snow, and I would have loved for her to see some. My husband really didn’t want to see snow. I figured we had a chance of snow in Chattanooga, but at least it would be colder than Florida.
Choosing a Hotel
We weren’t sure if we would make it all of the way to Chattanooga the first night so we did not book our hotel.
In the end, we drove all of the way in 1 day. We left early in the morning on January 1. The kids had stayed up late, but none of us made it to midnight. We packed up the car and left around 7 am, with the hope that they would fall back asleep. Zach did-and he slept so long that we didn’t even stop for breakfast. I ended up waking him up for lunch around 1 pm after having snacks for breakfast. Maisie never did fall back asleep.
We were set to arrive around dinner, so I booked us in at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel.
Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel
I went back and forth between wanting to stay there and not. Of course, sleeping in a real train would be fun for the kids, but did I want to sleep in a train? I researched and saw that the trains were small and it was loud outside. In the end, I booked a room that was not part of the train, and I am glad I did. While it would have been fun (for the kids) to stay on a train, they were right out in the middle of everything. There was a lot going on at the hotel, including an ice skating rink, which meant a lot of people were around.
The room we got was nice, and far from the noise. It was fun to stay at such a busy hotel. We were able to check in and immediately sit down to eat at one of their restaurants. We walked around and looked at the ice skaters, trains, and decorations before going to bed. The hotel has an indoor pool, but we didn’t end up using it.
I used Hotwire for the other nights as I could not decide where to stay. We ended up with The Chattanoogan which was beautiful and had an indoor pool. The pool was on my list of what I wanted from a hotel. It is hard to go out at night with kids, but they have energy and it is a struggle to just sit in the room, so it is nice to have options. Our kids are great swimmers and a pool can entertain them for hours.
One thing is that both hotels had paid parking. It seemed like everywhere inside Chattanooga has paid parking. We learned that if you go over the bridge, it is free parking, but in central Chattanooga, expect to pay.
Downtown Chattanooga is walkable, even with kids.
There is a free trolley, but we did not end up taking it. Perhaps if we stayed downtown we would have.
Downtown Chattanooga has a bunch of cute shops and fun restaurants.
One of the most popular things to do in Chattanooga with kids is to visit Ruby Falls. The falls are inside a cave.
I wore Zach in part because it is easier than having a 3-year-old walk in a cave and in part because that kid doesn’t love walking.
The cave is large, which is nice for people like me who do not like confined spaces.
The guide walks you to the falls and then turns on the lights for pictures. They are only on for a limited time. They try to let every family get a picture before turning the lights off. We asked for someone to take our pictures, but as we were the last family, the lights went off before I looked at it to see that he hadn’t bothered to get our daughter in the shot. She was standing with us.
If a nice family picture is your goal, don’t go last!
See Rock City
I do not remember much from being a child, but I do have memories from See Rock City. I have distinct memories of my dad in “Fat Man Squeeze.”
Rock City has gardens, bridges, old rock formations, and plenty of bridges to walk across. On a clear day, you can see 7 states. Of course, we could see absolutely nothing. I do remember the view from the last time I visited, but as it was rainy our entire time in Chattanooga, we were unable to see the views. Still, we had a nice day at See Rock City.
At the end, there is an area called the Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. I remember it as well, and I am sure that it has not changed.
Incline Railway and Tennessee Valley Railroad
The Incline Railway was closed during our visit for renovations. I have memories of riding on it, and I am sure that my kids would have loved it. Instead, we drove up the mountain where the train usually goes, and then we visited the Tennessee Valley Railroad.
They offer lots of train rides, but none were available during our visit so we just walked around and looked at the trains.
Bluff View Arts District is nice to walk around. Of course, with kids, it isn’t so easy, but we did find a cafe to sit down and enjoy an afternoon treat.
The arts district is close to the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge. We walked across the bridge and a little bit around Northshore which has plenty of shops and restaurants.
Lost Sea Adventure
When we were looking for things to do on our last full day in Chattanooga, we stumbled upon the Lost Sea Adventures.
It is a bit of a drive, but a boat ride inside of a cave is something that none of us have done before.
Like Ruby Falls, the cave is large. It is so large that they actually have sleepovers inside.
It rained most of our time in Chattanooga, but that did not slow us down!
One rainy afternoon, we went to the aquarium.
The kids loved playing outside of the aquarium just about as much as inside.
I probably would have skipped the aquarium if it hadn’t been raining, but the kids enjoyed it. There were all of the animals that you expect to see in an aquarium, and it is a nice size where you can easily spend a few hours.
More Fun Things to in Chattanooga with Kids
- Trolley Tour and the Selfie Museum
- A Family-Friendly Spooky Walking Tour
- Chattanooga Trolley and Train Ride
- Chattanooga Scavenger Hunt
- Make Your Own Candle
I do not remember every place that we ate in Chattanooga, but I do remember enjoying every single meal.
The coffee was always delicious, and I tried a new coffee shop each morning.
We tried to eat mainly southern food, which Chattanooga does well.
Some of the restaurants that we ate at include:
Sugar’s Ribs– I do not eat ribs, and this place was delicious. It is not quite in town, but worth going to. There are goats outside which my kids enjoyed looking out while we waited for our lunch.
Frothy Monkey at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel- We don’t usually eat at our hotel, but we got in late. It was good and we ended up eating breakfast at the Frothy Monkey too. I did not realize til later, but if you stay in the hotel, they serve coffee in the hall by the elevator and it is Frothy Monkey coffee. You can pour a cup to go and fill it with cream and sugar in the restaurant.
Maple Street Biscuit Company- I don’t love visiting chain restaurants, especially on vacation, but I heard good things about Maple Street and there isn’t one where we live. We were not disappointed.
Southern Star was right near our hotel and a quick and delicious place. They gave the kids WIKI sticks, which they hadn’t played with before.
Tupelo Honey is another one near our hotel and another chain that we don’t have at home- but also, give us all of the biscuits! My family could eat biscuits and honey all day.
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